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Thursday, March 31, 2016

Plainfield Symphony welcomes back Maestro José Serebrier on Saturday

World renowned conductor José Serebrier, who led the Plainfield
Symphony from 1968 to 1973 will be welcomed back Saturday.

The Plainfield Symphony welcomes back Maestro José Serebrier this Saturday in a special concert featuring his compositions.

Serebrier, a world-renowned composer and conductor, winner of 8 Grammies, was music director of the Plainfield Symphony from 1968 to 1973, starting at the young age of 29.

The Uruguayan-born Serebrier got his first big break at age 19, when the famed conductor Leopold Stokowski premiered Serebrier's Symphony No. 1, composed as a seventten-year old student at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute. It is said that Stokowski chose the work because he found the originally planned Charles Ives' Fourth Symphony impossible to perform.

Serebrier has gone on to compose more than one hundred works, and is one of the most recorded conductors ever.

The program, entitled "Welcome Back, Maestro Serebrier," will be under the baton of Charles Prince, the PSO's music director. It starts at 7:00 PM at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, East 7th Street and Watchung Avenue. (Parking in the church lot on First Place, on the street, or in Swain Galleries lot.)

Tickets: $55/Reserved, $35/General admission, $25/Seniors/Students. Info: (908) 561-5140 or visit the PSO website:

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

(Board of Ed) FY2017 Budget adopted, next year's outlook clouded

One time budget tricks are just postponing a crisis.

Taking a page from the Chris Christie playbook, the Plainfield Board of Education passed its FY2017 budget of $189,643,334 at last night's business meeting and budget hearing.

To cover a shortfall of $2.62 million, the District will draw down its surplus by $1 million and expects to have $1 million on hand by the end of the year (June 30) to add to the pot. The remaining $620,000 is to come from negotiated savings in contractual services (copiers and consultants were examples given).

Thus, the District was able to avoid large-scale staff layoffs, though the original proposal had included shrinking jobs by attrition as well -- that is, not replacing slots that become vacant with equivalently paid personnel. We may hear more about this issue as the FY2017 year unfolds.

Meanwhile, drawing on the surplus to cover a shortfall in the operating budget is a signal of deep fiscal distress. The money is supposed to be a sort of "rainy day fund" for emergencies or unexpected expenses. Normal operating expenses are hardly "unexpected".

With contractual obligations that will rise next year and benefits costs that are also expected to increase, plus a growing charter school population (meaning less funds for the District's use), this means the Plainfield public schools are looking at an even tougher budget picture next year.

Time for the public to start thinking ahead.

The Board of Ed election is April 19, and there are candidates who can do better than Wilma Campbell.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

(Board of Ed) Some annoying questions -- big and small -- for tonight's budget hearing

Despite a promise the revised proposed budget would be
online 72 hours before the March 29 meeting, a peek at the
properties sheet shows it was created on Monday morning.

Despite a promise by Plainfield schools superintendent Anna Belin Pyles that the modified proposed budget would be up on the District's website "72 hours before the [March 29] meeting", the budget went up on Monday, March 28, some time after the document was created at 11:43 AM (see screenshot above), barely 31 hours before the meeting.

The revised budget total is $189,643,334 -- $2,260,000 more than the budget introduced on March 1 ($187, 023,334).

Annoying Question #1: Why is an adjustment being made at this late date to add in $470,000 for out-of-district tuition? Why wasn't the amount included in the original proposal? If this amount is new, is it displacing some other funds that are not being mentioned?

Annoying Question #2: The budget resolution for tonight (XI. A), says that the Board of Ed took action at its March 1 meeting to adopt the prposed budget "for the purpose of advertising". I was there; I remember that and wrote on it here. The next meeting was a community forum, hosted by Belin Pyles on March 10 at the PHS cafeteria (see my post here). The next meeting of the Board was its business meeting of March 15 -- which did not include any notice of a budget hearing.

So here's the question: Tonight's resolution states that the Board "took action at the public hearing" to  modify the budget by $2,620,000. What public hearing? There was none on March 1 or March 15. March 10 was not a Board meeting. So, when was this "public hearing"?

Annoying Question #3: What ever happened to the staff reductions and medical benefits savings projected at the March 10 community forum. By March 15, these were being downplayed? So, will there be no layoffs or cuts in medical benefit costs? If so, where is the District finding the extra money?

I hope the executive session before the 7:15 PM budget hearing includes plenty of Pepto-Bismol for Board members. I have a feeling they're going to need it.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, March 28, 2016

(Board of Ed) Wilma Campbell puts your tax dollars to work -- in support of her re-election campaign

At East Second and Watchung, twin giant billboards . . .

On the left, paid for by you the taxpayer. . .

. . . and on the right, Wilma and Krew.

Plainfield's Board of Ed president Wilma Campbell is putting your tax dollars to work -- for her re-election campaign. And the evidence is right before your very eyes.

Take a look at the twin billboards over the Plainfield Donut Shop and Pete's Fish Market at East Second Street and Watchung Avenue.

There are two giant billboards, costing thousands of dollars, promoting -- Wilma Campbell and her team, and -- by sheer "coincidence" the property deal for the old National Starch headquarters that she wants to tout as an "accomplishment".

You paid for the billboard on the left -- with your tax dollars. Isn't it interesting that with the District facing a budget shortfall that threatens teacher layoffs and cuts in textbooks and school supplies, Wilma finds the money to pay for a billboard?

And it just "happens" to be next to her campaign billboard? With some experience in the business of renting billboards, I can tell you that each billboard has a location identifier. Your billboard goes up where you specify it. So, it's hardly an "accident" that Wilma's two billboards are next to each other -- one touting her "krew"  and the other boosting something she wants to take credit for.

I will leave aside for the moment the details on how this "$1 deal" is actually a theft from the city (see my previous post here).

I think it's time for Wilma to go -- along with these sleazy manipulations of taxpayer monies.

School Board elections are Tuesday, April 19, 2:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

Mark your calendars!

I'll be voting for the 8-6-4 Team: Lynn Anderson, Dorien Hurtt and Carmencita Pile, the team pledged to fix the mess with the schools.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

FUSP will host final movies in Women's Film Festival

Plainfield's FUSP will screen two of the films in this
Newark-based annual film festival.

Plainfield's First Unitarian Society will screen the final two movies (on Thursday, April 7) in the the 2016 Like Jazz Film Festival sponsored by Women in Media-Newark.

The festival is presented for Women's History Month and offers free art exhibits, films and concerts in a variety of venues in Newark, Plainfield and East Orange.

The films being screened at FUSP are: I Don' Been Through the Snake's Skin and Come out Clean (58 minutes) and Look At Us Now, Mother (84 minutes). Both are autobiographical, intimate looks at the filmmaker's families.

Here is the complete schedule for the Festival, which begins on Tuesday,April 29 and runs through the final movies on April 7 at FUSP --

Schedule for the 2016 Like Jazz Film Festival.
(Click to enlarge for printing.)

FUSP (First Unitarian Society of Plainfield) is at 724 Park Avenue.  Parking available on the street or in the public lot across Park Avenue.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Extended hours for voter registration Tuesday

Municipal Clerk 'AJ' Jalloh
has announced that Plainfield's Clerk's Office will be open Tuesday, March 29, from 6:00 AM to 8:30 PM for voter registration.

Tuesday is the last day to register for the Board of Ed election, slated for April 19.

Registration will also ensure your ability to vote for Donald Trump in the June Primary (if you're a Republican).

Voter registration forms are also available on the city's website here. You will find registration forms and absentee ballots in both English and Spanish.

The Clerk's office is on the first floor of City Hall at Watchung Avenue and East 6th Street. Parking is available in the lot behind the building. City Hall is an accessible facility. For more information, call the Clerk's office at (908) 753-3222.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Mystery of PEA teachers' union shuffle clarified

Logo of the PEA, which represents about 1,000
teachers and other employees in the Plainfield schools.

For Plainfield Today readers who found the outline of events concerning the leadership of the Plainfield Education Association (PEA), the union which represents about 1,000 teachers and other employees in the Plainfield school district, I have some clarification.

The removal of former president Kathy Cardona was not directly connected to the election of a new president, though my reporting may not have made that clear (my post is here).

A letter currently being circulated by the union to its members clarifies the matter.

Cardona was removed from office by the union's Representative Council after missing three executive committee meetings. Upon her removal on March 17, the bylaws call for the vice president to become the acting president from that date until July 31, 2016 or until the next election results are certified.

That meant that VP Eric Jones assumed leadership of the union as of March 17, as acting president.

Coincidentally, the union elections were under way for new officers. The results were being counted as Cardona was being removed from office.

The results are now in, and Eric Jones has been elected the new President of the PEA.

The word is that Superintendent of Schools Anna Belin Pyles is still resisting the news.

But they have a saying about that, which Trekkie fans know well: Resistance is futile.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

A funny R.S.V.P. story

This Tupperware cartoon was recently shared on Facebook.
It can be found online here.

The Tupperware cartoon above, which popped up recently on my Facebook feed reminds me of a funny Plainfield story.

A gay couple who lived in the Questover mansion on Central Avenue, Randy Phillips and Alan Mintzer, hosted a Christmas party for Plainfield's gay and lesbian residents in 1983.

Several of us knew other gay couples who had moved to the Queen City (it was our first Christmas in Plainfield), and thought it would be a friendly affair and a way to meet a few new people.

The invitation was passed by word of mouth. Everyone was astonished when hundreds of people showed up for the event.

That party was the origins of R.S.V.P. (Residents Serving Victorian Plainfield) which became for a time THE gay group in New Jersey. The group's membership quickly swelled to nearly six hundred -- almost all of whom lived in Plainfield. This was big news for the 1980s. We were only a little more than a decade after the "Stonewall Riot" and gay and lesbian people were just beginning to stand up and openly take their places in their communities.

The group developed a two-pronged approach: it met monthly at the First Unitarian Society and had informational topics or recreational activities (a square dance I remember in particular), and it raised funds for and provided volunteers to various Plainfield charitable organizations.

In 1984, Plainfield's new mayor Rick Taylor invited the group to help light the holiday tree at the annual ceremony on the steps of City Hall.

But the cartoon reminds me of one of the funnier times we had.

During one of the social hours, an R.S.V.P, member wondered aloud, "why not have a Tupperware party?" Everyone thought that would be a hoot and the idea was given to the social committee, which eagerly took it up.

Networking with family and friends, someone came up with a "Tupperware lady" in a nearby town. For those who may be unfamiliar, Tupperware gots its huge following from an army of "Tupperware ladies", usually housewives, who hosted in-home parties put together by friends using their social networks to demonstrate and sell the colorful plastic storage containers with the snap-on lids. The "Tupperware lady" made a commission on the gross sales and the hostess received some loot in the form of free Tupperware.

Anyway, contact was made with the Tupperware representative but she was reluctant at first to do the party, fearing that if the word got out she had done a party for "that kind of people" (gays and lesbians), her reputation would be tarnished and her party business would suffer.

The group finally promised that we would guarantee an attendance figure (I think it was 30 people), which reassured the "Tupperware lady", who was used to parties of a dozen or so people.

We duly publicized the event to the membership and when the day came, the crowd could hardly squeeze into the meeting space. The "Tupperware lady" was overwhelmed. She composed herself and began her pitch. Everyone sat in rapt attention. Her patter was very good and as she relaxed, the R.S.V.P. crowd did, too.

Soon, folks were clapping at each new item that was demonstrated. At the end of the demonstrations, the poor woman was swamped with orders. She told us later that she had cleared $1,300 on the party -- meaning she had sold close to $3,000 worth of plastic containers at a single party -- making her something of a star in Tupperware circles.

She was very grateful, eager to come back again, thinking she had hit a vertiable gold mine.

And Plainfield's gay and lesbian community showed its market muscle.

The good time that was had by all.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Taylor, Toliver tank resolution supporting police

Police Director Riley's key staffers presented
a detailed overview of the Police Division.

Some of the three dozen or so officers and cadets
who were in attendance last evening.

With only five members present, a motion at Monday evening's special Plainfield City Council meeting in support of the Plainfield Police Division failed when Councilor Gloria Taylor voted "no" and Councilor Diane Toliver abstained. That Left Councilors Barry Goode, Rebecca Williams and Council President Cory Storch in favor. The motion would have needed four "yes" votes to pass. Councilors Tracey Brown and Bridget Rivers were absent.

A presentation by Police Director Carl Riley and key staff members highlighted the Division's work in several areas --

  • Recruitment efforts to expand the force -- and its current demographics;

  • Outlining the accreditation process in which we are currently engaged;

  • A video highlighting Community Policing, with an emphasis on youth outreach;

  • Explaining the three forms of disciplinary action (criminal misconduct, administrative misconduct, and performance deficiency) and the processes and authorities involved -- including several levels of appeal; and

  • The dominant role that technology now plays in policing -- especially in communications, surveillance, intelligence gathering, data mapping and crime analysis.
The presentation definitively put to bed allegations that the Division is unrepresentative of the community, that there is a culture of racism, and that the Division is unprofessional.

In remarks before the presentation got under way, retired Police Chief Ed Santiago alluded to the internal affairs process about which supporters of Lt. Kenny Reid are complaining, explaining that Reid -- like other disciplined officers -- has three levels of appeal if they wish to challenge the discipline handed down.

At the presentation's conclusion, Council President Storch invited comments from Council members.

Councilor Taylor took the mike first for an extended peroration. Without remorse or apology for having made unfounded accusations about the Police Division at last Monday's council meeting, she instead chose to try covering her tracks by professing her support of the Division, but only wishing it focused on Community Policing (completely ignoring the ground covered by the presentation on this topic).

Saying she is "not one to sit back and let political games be played," she nevertheless played a political game of her own, trying to walk the fine line of backing both the Division and supporters of Lt. Reid.

Councilor Williams took the opportunity to apologize once again to Director Riley for initially supporting the investigation resolution last Monday and made clear she was not in favor of going forward with that resolution.

Council President Storch, in a statesmanlike manner, suggested the Division should "go further" with Community Policing, and that the Council should move forward without an investigation.

Public comment was then opened. Though Storch tried to underscore that comment should be on the resolution on the agenda, several Reid supporters felt obliged to focus on the matter of the discipline meted out to him. When public comment was finally closed, we did learn some new facts before the vote was taken.

While Council President Storch alluded to other officers being involved in the Reid incident and that they were "diverse", Mayor Mapp was more pointed. He revealed that of the five officers involved in the situation, three were white and two African American, saying that should dispel ideas that Reid's situation was somehow racially motivated.

As the Council prepared to vote the resolution, Councilors Taylor and Toliver weighed in with objections to its second paragraph --

WHEREAS, after reviewing this information [from the Prosecutor, about the incident in question], the Plainfield City Council believes that the investigation and subsequent disciplinary actions were handled in a fair and objective manner according to applicable laws...
saying they could not support that statement, thus leading to the outcome I noted at the beginning of this post.

The only persons with legal standing in the matter are Lt. Reid and the unnamed fellow officers involved. They have options to appeal for relief.

So here we have it, some of the Council are for applying the rules to all equally, and some are for special treatment for "special" people.

Perhaps resident Elvis Belle summed it up best in his public comments, when he pointed out the "disconnect" between Taylor and Toliver saying they supported the Police Division and yet disputing the disciplinary process' conclusions.

On a personal note, readers are aware that I have had my own "interaction" with the Police Division -- if you are not, you must be the only one in Plainfield who is out of the loop. I congratulated Director Riley afterwards for the excellent presentation and assured him of my wholehearted support for the Division and its professionalism and in executing its duties without fear or favor.

I only wish in Lt. Reid's matter for the same kind of fair and impartial justice as he would have wished for me in my situation.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Should Councilor Taylor resign for her conduct in the Kenny Reid matter?

Councilor Gloria Taylor precipitated a racially-tinged
and threatening scene at last Monday's Council meeting.

Word in the street is that the wind was considerably taken out of some Plainfield City Council members' sails this past week after the Union County Prosecutor's Office briefed them confidentially on the facts in the Kenny Reid matter.

While Reid has never publicly stated the issue(s) which precipitated the push for his resignation or demotion, and has not revealed whether other officers were involved, now that Council members have been briefed, word will probably start to seep out about the details -- the confidentiality of the briefing notwithstanding.

One councilor who had been a Reid supporter is said to have been shocked by the briefing and to have said that the facts related by the prosecutor's office were unlike what she had been told by Reid supporters.

A Courthouse rally for Lt. Reid led by Elizabeth activist
Salaam Ismial featured anti-Mapp stalwarts Malcolm Dunn,
Alma Blanco and Councilor Tracey Brown.
(Image: Star-Ledger)

It also seems that Council members have been warned that if they interfere with the proper exercise of the Police Division's Internal Affairs process -- from which Reid, or any other officer, has the right of appeal to the Civil Service Commission and then to the Appellate Courts -- they will do so on their own accord and be personally liable for their conduct in case of any lawsuits or legal action that ensues.

So now the only question that remains is what did Councilor Taylor know and when did she know it when she created a racially-tinged scene and menacing atmosphere at last Monday's Council meeting?

If Councilor Taylor was ignorant of the true facts of the matter and was misled by Lt. Reid or his supporters, she should publicly apologize to her fellow Council members and to Plainfield residents for going off half-cocked.

If, on the other hand, Councilor Taylor knew the true facts of the situation when she created her scene, she should resign for the good of Plainfield.

Plainfield City Council sessions are videotaped and rebroadcast on the city's public access cable stations 34 (Verizon) and 96 (Comcast). The schedule can be viewed here.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, March 20, 2016

(Board of Ed) Will Wilma be happy with new teachers' union president?

Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles leads a budget forum
on March 10. (Yes, that's Dan wearing his bumble-bee jersey.)
(Image from the Plainfield Public Schools website.)

CORRECTION: In a text from a union member received late Sunday evening, the PEA membership actually stands at around 1,000 -- not 600 as noted below in this post.

The Plainfield school district was abuzz on Friday with news that the Plainfield Education Association (PEA) has a new acting president -- Eric Jones.

The announcement was made in a letter from the union's attorneys, Zazzali Fagella Nowak, dated March 17 and circulated to the union's members.

The Plainfield Education Association recently concluded an election by mail-in ballots for the office. The election, I have been told, was supervised by the state union (NJEA) to ensure compliance with the union's election rules. Once the balloting has been certified, he will be the president. (There have been allegations about the conduct of elections and other matters under former long-time president Kathy Cardona.)

Cardona was removed from office immediately, and members were advised that she has no authority to take any actions on behalf of the PEA.

The Plainfield Education Association represents more than 600 teachers, aides and support staff in the Plainfield Public Schools.

PEA members have complained for years of the manner in which the local unit has been run, and it appears the state organization has taken decisive steps to straighten out the Plainfield situation.

Among the complaints of local union members have been the arbitrary and capricious manner in which the local has been run -- including failure to properly notify members of meetings, failure to keep and provide accurate and timely minutes, and lack of financial transparency.

There are also suspicions that the leadership is too cozy with the schools' administration and that union elections have not followed NJEA rules.

In April of 2015, the NJEA sent a warning letter to the leaders of the local warning that the PEA was out of compliance with the NJEA's rules concerning affiliation.

In June 2015, another letter was addressed to the local's president, with a checklist of items to be addressed immediately. Sources say the local never addressed the issues or replied to the state organization.

As new president of the Plainfield affiliate, Jones will have his hands full on two fronts -- rebuilding the members' trust in the union leadership, and resolving issues with the FY2017 proposed budget.

In a presentation by Superintendent Anna Belin Pyles on Thursday, March 10 (see my post here), staff layoffs and a reduction in benefits costs were put on the table.

Though Belin Pyles seemed to back off at the March 15 meeting, some suspect that was only a ploy. Although it was promised that a revised budget proposal would be posted to the district's website, I do not yet see one as of today.

Will BOE board president Wilma Campbell be happy with the new PEA president? I don't see how she can be since, since Jones' mandate is to represent the members' interests in a more forthright manner than under Cardona's leadership.

I heard reports on Friday that Campbell was unhappy and saying that she would not "recognize" Jones as the union's leader.

I certainly hope that is not so. It is hardly any of Campbell's business who the union members choose for their leadership.

The public hearing on the proposed budget is slated for Tuesday, March 29 -- before which time the proposed revisions are supposed to be made public and posted on the District's website.

Interesting times ahead.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Special Council meeting Monday on the Police Division


Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has called a Special Meeting of the Plainfield City Council for Monday, March 21, at 7:00 PM at the Plainfield Senior Center, 400 East Front Street.

There are only two items on the agenda --
  • A presentation on the state of the Police Division (presumably by the Administration); and

  • A resolution in support of the Plainfield Police Division
As at all public meetings of the Council, the public will have an opportunity to comment on items on the agenda before action is taken.

Parking for the Senior Center is in the lot on East Second Street behind the Monarch condos building or on the street. If using the Monarch parking lot, please be mindful not to park in residents' parking spaces.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, March 18, 2016

Remembering Charlie Nutt

Charlie Nutt, who retired as publisher of the Courier News
in 2010, began his career as a reporter in Plainfield.

Bernice reported yesterday afternoon on the death of Charlie Nutt (see here), whose 37-year career at the Courier News covered many important events in Plainfield.

I remember Charlie as a dapper and incredibly helpful source when the city was redeveloping the old Tepper's property into Horizons at Plainfield.

Charlie Nutt (far right, behind Asm Green), was an
honored guest at Mayor McWilliams ceremony
inaugurating redevelopment of the Tepper's property in 2001.

Working at the time as the city's public information officer, I was scrambling to find historical information about the store, the Tepper family, and the saga of the store's closing. All in preparation for a gala ceremony marking the beginning of work on converting the old department store into a modern apartment building.

Charlie Nutt, who had covered Plainfield's business beat as a young reporter (and when the Courier News was still located in Plainfield, at East 2nd and Church -- now the Union County College building), was a generous source of information.

He had covered the store's closing and the many false starts and dashed hopes for the Park-Madison site. He helped greatly in putting together the background information and was an invited guest of Mayor Al McWilliams when the ceremony was held.

The Park-Madison dirt lot in 1972, with Tepper's
Department Store in the background.
(Photo by the late Barbara Sandford.)

After his retirement in 2010, he moved to Columbia, SC, where he had bought an alternative weekly newspaper, the Free Times. Columbia's The State newspaper first broke the news of his death by his own hand (see here).

Sincere condolences to his family and his associates at the Free Times.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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